A Taco Pasta Salad filled with ground beef, veggies, cheese, tortilla chips, and dressed in a creamy catalina dressing! It’s a crowd favorite that’s welcome at every summer party, picnic, and barbecue.
If you love ground beef tacos with all the fixings, you’re going to love this Taco Pasta Salad! This recipe makes a big batch, so it’s perfect for picnics, potlucks, and summer barbecues.
Creamy taco pasta salad brings the best qualities of classic hard shell tacos, pasta salad, and hearty pasta dishes together in one bowl. Just like my Taco Pasta recipe, this crowd-pleasing side dish is filled with ground beef, a creamy sauce, and cheese. The extra fresh vegetables, taco fillings, and tortilla chips help bring every bite to life.
Taco pasta salad ingredients
- Pasta – Choose any short pasta noodle that you love or have at home. I used rotini but fusilli, macaroni, or rigatoni would also work.
- Ground beef – Taco-seasoned ground beef is a hearty filling that brings substance to the creamy pasta salad. Feel free to lighten things up by swapping the beef for ground turkey, chicken, or plant-based ground protein.
- Zesty creamy dressing – A mix of chunky red salsa, sour cream, and catalina dressing transforms into a creamy and zesty dressing.
- Taco filling – Stir in the classic taco fillings, like grape tomatoes, romaine lettuce, a blend of Mexican cheeses, and red onion to replicate the same great flavors and textures.
- Tortilla chips – You can use tortilla chips or Doritos in the pasta or on the side to add some crunch.
How to make taco pasta salad
To make this recipe, first cook the pasta and rinse it under cold water when it’s done. Then transfer it to a bowl and place it in the fridge to cool while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Next, cook the ground beef in a hot skillet with some oil and the taco seasoning. Once it’s cooked, you’ll also need to transfer it to a bowl and refrigerate it until it’s completely cool.
While the pasta and beef are cooling down, you can make the dressing by mixing the salsa, sour cream, and catalina dressing in a small bowl.
Once everything is cooled, you’re ready to mix it up! In the bowl with the pasta, stir in the ground meat, tomatoes, red onions, cheese, lettuce, and dressing. Garnish with cilantro and tortilla chips, then serve!
Tips and substitutions
- Mix in the crushed tortilla chips right before serving or just serve them on the side so they don’t get soggy.
- If you can’t find catalina dressing, use French dressing instead.
- Don’t forget to drain the excess grease from the meat. The pasta salad will be way too greasy if you skip this part.
- Add more fillings if you want, like bell peppers, black beans, avocado, or pinto beans.
- To make this recipe gluten free, replace the pasta with quinoa or gluten free pasta.
- Top each bowl with fresh cilantro, cotija cheese, sour cream, or Mexican crema for an extra filling meal.
- The salad is best served fresh, but you can store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- 16 ounces rotini pasta (or other medium-sized noodle like fusilli)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 lb lean ground beef (or ground turkey, chicken, or plant-based ground protein)
- 3 tablespoons taco seasoning
- 1/2 cup chunky salsa
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup catalina dressing
- 1 1/2 cups halved grape tomatoes (or quartered if they’re large)
- 3 cups shredded romaine lettuce
- 2 cups finely shredded Mexican blend cheese
- 1/2 medium red onion, diced
- tortilla chips or Doritos, for serving, optional
- chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the rotini noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water until the pasta has cooled significantly, and shake off as much excess water as possible.
- Transfer the pasta to a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned and fully cooked. Drain off any excess grease.
- Add the taco seasoning to ground beef, stir together until thoroughly combined, then remove from heat.
- Transfer the cooked ground beef to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until cooled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- While the beef and noodles are cooling, make the dressing by adding chunky salsa, sour cream, and catalina dressing to a small bowl. Stir together to combine, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Once everything has cooled completely, add the tomatoes, red onions, shredded cheese, lettuce, and homemade dressing to the large bowl. Toss together to combine.
- Mix in the crushed tortilla chips right before serving or just serve them on the side so they don’t get soggy. Garnish with cilantro and enjoy!
- Tortilla chips: Mix in the crushed tortilla chips right before serving or just serve them on the side so they don’t get soggy.
- Dressing: If you can’t find catalina dressing, use French dressing instead.
- Gluten free: To make this recipe gluten free, replace the pasta with quinoa or gluten free pasta.
- Leftovers: The salad is best served fresh, but you can store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.